FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It is completely counterintuitive that the New York Jets, a team in a painfully obvious rebuilding mode, will start a 38-year-old quarterback on Week 1. Josh McCown is not part of the Jets' future. He probably won't even be on the roster next year.
But Todd Bowles still absolutely made the right decision by naming McCown his starter.
Truth is, he never really had any other viable choice.
Not that anyone ever expected anything else, but it all became official on Monday afternoon when Bowles ended this supposed "open competition" with less than two weeks to go until opening day. Sure, McCown played only one preseason series (3 of 4, 72 yards and a touchdown in the opener). But Christian Hackenberg (32 of 52, 267 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) didn't play well enough to make anyone think he was ready, and while Bryce Petty was better (32 of 48, 426 yards, three touchdowns, one interception), he played mostly against third- and fourth-string defenses.
Starting Hackenberg or Petty would've been a big gamble, especially with the young, unproven roster the Jets have assembled. It was easy to see why Bowles and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates both said they felt McCown "gives us the best chance to win."
Of course, for a team that has been focused on 2018 and beyond with almost every other decision it's made since January, winning shouldn't really matter. Frankly, it probably doesn't. But McCown also gives the Jets the best chance to develop the other players around him. The offensive line has a better chance of getting in the right protections and the young receivers have a better chance of balls getting to them in the right spot and on time.
McCown can at least make the offense run competently so other players can grow. If the quarterback is a mess, trying to learn a new offense while learning how to play at an NFL speed, just imagine how much of a disaster everyone else around him would be.
And that's the bottom line on why the Jets signed McCown in the first place. He remains a placeholder, the guy who can keep the team functioning and keep the younger players growing until Hackenberg is ready to step in.
The proof of that, by the way, is in the way the Jets handled this quarterback mess this summer. They gave Hackenberg, their 2016 second-round pick, a ton of time with the first-team offense. They gave him every opportunity to prove he was ready, that he knew how to go through his reads, where to go with the ball and could make the right calls quick enough to give the players around him a chance.
"I've seen Josh play," Bowles said. "I knew what he could do. I wanted to see if the other ones could go ahead and step up and take the spot."
They didn't. Petty never really had a chance, playing mostly late in games with fringe roster players. Hackenberg did have a chance, but he showed the Jets he was still essentially still a rookie. He locked in far too often on his first read. He held the ball too long when he was under pressure. He sometimes didn't see open receivers and ended up making higher-risk throws. He did some good things, like showing more decisiveness than last summer and proving he could throw on the run, but he was too inexperienced and too flawed to immediately step in and run a team that is just too young.
"Obviously Christian was the only one who hasn't played in a regular season game," Bowles said. "The other two have played in it so they had a little more poise. So everything he was seeing he saw for the first and second time. But he got better mentally. He got some things to learn from. So it wasn't disappointing. It was a learning experience."
He just still has a lot more to learn. So do two- or three-fifths of his offensive line, depending on who wins those starting jobs. So do his receivers, which are likely to include second-year pro Robby Anderson and rookies Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart as the top three. So does tight end Jordan Leggett, who'll likely be the opening day starter while Austin Seferian-Jenkins is suspended.
That's a lot of youth and inexperience. It's much better for the development of the Jets to have them guided by a veteran, steady hand.
"Josh brings experience, poise, leadership, confidence," Bates said. "He's played this game. He understands the West Coast system. And at the end of the day he gives us the best chance to win. In the quarterback room, that's our one goal, to win on Sunday."
That last part is true, but deep down, the 2017 Jets know that winning isn't everything. They brought McCown in to shepherd their young flock, to guide them toward and prepare them for a better future. They didn't want a young and inexperienced quarterback leading a young and experienced team. At some point this season, that will be their reality.
But for now, the only sensible choice was for the Jets to let McCown lead the way.